Cernunnos the Horned God

Halloween! When the veil between the worlds is thin…goblins and witches and spooks…OH MY!

This “in between time” has long been one which Gay people have taken on as their own holiday, reveling in masks and costumes. There are reasons Halloween is so closely associated with Gay people, some of which author and long-time White Crane contributor, Arthur Evans explained in his wonderful series of lectures in San Francisco in the mid-1970s which later became his book, Witchcraft and The Gay Counterculture. Here is a brief excerpt:

One Celtic male deity … is the horned god, “one of the most basic of the Celtic god types,” whose worship goes back to the Stone Age. He is often associated with the Mothers, as well as with sex, animals, and nature. He also seems to have links with male shamans. His great antiquity is shown by a Stone Age painting in Ariege, France, which shows a man dancing in the hide of an animal and wearing the antlers of a stag. And in the eighteenth century, construction workers inside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris uncovered a four-sided Celtic stone altar dating from Roman times and bearing the figure of a bearded male deity with antlers. The stone was inscribed with the word Cernunnos, which means “The Horned One.”

The horned god was especially linked with male sexuality and often appears with an erect cock. Moreover, when erect, he is sometimes portrayed in the company of men, not women. A drawing of the horned god from Val Camonica, Italy, shows him holding a ceremonial collar ring in one hand and a horned serpent in the other. He is being worshiped by a man, and the man has an erection. This picture is reminiscent of early art scattered throughout Europe. The men often have erections and appear together in groups without women. In view of the Celts’ notoriety for homosexuality, these facts suggest a Gay element in the workshop of the horned god.

The horned god was also lord of the dead and the underworld. To the Celts, who believed in reincarnation, darkness and death were parts of the cycle of life and rebirth, and death was the very place where the creative forces of nature brought about new life. Because of this connection with the underworld the horned god was often shown as black in color. But this blackness was not considered evil, as Christianity later viewed it.

The depiction of the Celtic male god as an animal with horns is understandable in terms of the economy and religion of the times. Stone age Europe was dependent for its very existence upon the hunting of reindeer, red deer, and elk. Among the first animals to be domesticated were sheep and goats. Ancient Europeans, like all nature people, worshipped the animals they depended on, in contrast to modern, “civilized” people who objectify and destroy animals with all the impersonal violence that only scientific industrialism can devise.

The Celts dated the feast days of their religion according to the changing of the seasons, the breeding habits of animals, and the sowing and harvesting of crops. As in Judaism, feasts began on the night before the holiday. The four greatest Celtic holidays (with their Irish names) were Samhain(November 1); Imbolc (February 1); Beltaine (May 1) ; and Lugnasadh (August 1). These holidays were celebrated with ritual sexual promiscuity.

As it happens, these dates correspond exactly with the holidays later attributed by medieval Christians to witches. The Christians called these days, respectively, Halloween, Candlemas, Walpurgisnacht, and Lammas. Two other holidays were also celebrated by both Celts and witches: the winter solstice, December 21, surviving as the Feast of Fools; and the summer solstice, June 23, surviving as Midsummer Night. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written in the late sixteenth century, has echoes of this holiday. The play is full of magic, faeries, human and animal sexuality. It features a leading character named Puck, or Robin Goodfellow – a descendent of the horned god.

…Ritual transvestism associated with the old holidays continued in Europe down to modern times. “May Day sports perpetuated the practices, including even transvestism, and…in Wales, there existed, into the nineteenth century, a peasant dance and march with a garland, led by a dancer [a horned god figure] called the “Cadi.” In the twentieth century England such celebrations as the Helston Furry Dance, the Morris Dances, and the Peace Egg Mumming Play continued the tradition. In the Homanay celebration in Scotland, “the boys wore skirts and bonnets, the girls, hats and greatcoats.” The feast of Fools, a remnant of the old pagan religion, has persisted into modern times with clerics “wearing masks and monstrous visages at the hours of the office. They dance in the choir dressed as women, or disreputable men, or minstrels. They sing wanton songs.” Today many Gay people throughout Europe and America observe Halloween as a Gay holiday with transvestite celebrations. Originally, Halloween was one of the great holidays of the old religion – the Night of All Souls.

Excerpted from Witchcraft & the Gay Counterculture, Arthur Evans,

Fag Rag Books, 1978 ISBN: 0-915480-01-8